Charlie Elphicke MP writes ...
Backing our local high streets
High streets up and down the land are facing
challenging times. They struggle to compete with online retailers. These
internet giants donít have to pay for high street buildings Ė or business
rates. And their selfish culture of tax dodging gives them an even stronger
edge. Small wonder then that so many high street shops struggle to make ends
Here in Dover and Deal itís no different. Our high streets find things tough
too. We canít wish it all away. The hard truth is that our high streets will
need to change. Thatís not to say we shouldnít act to make a level playing
field with online retailers. We should. For example, in Parliament I have been
active in making the case to tackle online tax dodging. Yet proud as we are of
our high streets, we all know there is work to do.
Locally, we must remember just how far weíve come. For decades the hated
Burlington House cast a long shadow over Dover. It took a monumental effort Ė
yet it was finally torn down. The fall of Burlington House was a symbol of how
Dover was changing for the better. The new St James cinema, shops and
restaurants rose in its place. The once desolate car park is now packed with
shoppers. The £50 million invested is paying off. The redevelopment of the
leisure centre next door will boost things further.
No-one likes empty shops. There are 45 empty shops in Dover and 10 in Deal. So
itís welcome to see a scheme for grants to spruce up empty shop fronts
approved by Dover District Councilís Cabinet last week. In Dover, the old
Stembrook Co-op store is being turned into a start-up business base, helping
entrepreneurs test ideas before moving into the high street.
Dealís high street has been crowned Britainís high street of the year and
tops a list of the UKís best coastal towns. So Deal is in a better position.
Yet even there retailers tell me things are not always easy.
The key to the future will be to make our high streets attractions in their own
right. This is part of the reason Deal has done better Ė the sea is closer and
there are quite a lot of more niche businesses. A key question will be how we
can make Doverís high street more of an attraction and put more buzz in. Maybe
having more people living in the town centre will help Ė as could having more
entertainment there to draw people in.
There are no easy answers and itís something we need collectively to think
about. To work together to make our historic high street successful destinations
with a greater future. I would welcome hearing what readers think we should do
to move things forward.